Columnist reveals a fondness for wines made from the Norton grape

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For those of you who may have forgotten, an AVA is the acronym for ‘American Viticultural Area,’ defined as a grape-growing designated region in the United State having distinguishable geographic features with defined boundaries.

There are still only three AVA’s here in our state: Haw River Valley, Swan Creek and Yadkin Valley. I intend to research new wineries in North Carolina but for now I will concentrate on Virginia.
A new AVA must meet the following requirements:

  • Evidence that the name of the proposed new AVA is locally or nationally known as referring to this specific area
  • Historic or current evidence that the boundaries are legitimate
  • Evidence that growing conditions such as climate, soil, soil and other physical features are distinctive
  • Once AVA status is granted to a region, 85 percent of the grapes used to make a wine must be grown in the designated area, if the AVA is referenced on the label.

Although having a longer history of wine production than our state, Virginia is not the first state to produce wine. That honor goes to Florida where wine was produced as early as 1563.

Virginia has seven AVA’s with the latest being granted that status in March of 2012. The latest AVA is Middleburg. The other six are: Monticello, North Fork of Roanoke, North End of George Washington Birthplace, Rocky Knob, Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Eastern Shore.

Middleburg is located in the Northern Piedmont area of Virginia about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C. I have located several wineries/vineyards in this AVA and I am writing about two of them: Boxwood and Chrysalis. Both produce fine wines from different grape varietals and in different styles.

Boxwood Estate, started in 2006, makes Red wines and Rose at this time. Their wines are produced in the Bordeaux style with three Red variations produced from the five grape varieties certified by the French government for the Bordeaux region. These varieties are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

Boxwood 2010 is made in the style of the Left Bank of Bordeaux. Comprised of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 43 percent Merlot and 7 percent Petit Verdot, the wine has a deep purple color with intense aromas of Blackberries. It pairs well with grilled meats and bitter vegetables such as Broccoli Rabe. This wine sells for around $29.

Boxwood Topiary 2011 is made in the style of the Right Bank of Bordeaux. Comprised of 68 percent Cabernet Franc and 32 percent Merlot, this wine has softer tannins and is more fruit forward with red berry accents. It pairs well with pork, duck, tuna and salmon. Also priced at around $29 per bottle.

Boxwood Trellis 2011 is a meritage of all the grape varietals grown on the estate and for this year it is comprised of 60 percent Merlot and 40 percent of a blend, consisting of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. With oak and cherry flavors, this wine pairs well with hard cheese, roasted meats. Again, around the $29 price point.

The exact proportions of the blends for each variety changes from year to year, depending on the quality and intensity of each varietal. These wines can be a little hard to find but the winery does ship to North Carolina.

Chrysalis Vineyard, which was started in 1997, produces an amazing variety of white and red wines. They grow and experiment with about 20 varieties of grapes and produce a dozen or so wines.

In my opinion, one of the most important grapes grown at this vineyard is the “Norton” grape, often described as the real American grape. First developed by Dr. Daniel N. Norton of Richmond, Va. in 1830, this grape dominated wine production in the Eastern and Midwestern part of the country.

Norton is a combination of an unknown European grape and a nativeAmerican grape, with very little of the “foxy” flavor of other native grapes. Made in a dry style, wine from this grape won a gold medal at the 1873 Vienna World Exposition. This wine was considered one of the best in the world. However, Prohibition ended its dominant position.

Chrysalis vineyards has the largest planting of this grape in the world and produces several styles of wine, ranging from a Rose called Sarah’s Patio Red with some sweetness and fruit flavors with a great balance of acidity, to a Locksly Reserve in a dry style, which proprietors consider to be their flagship wine.

The other styles are called Schitz & Giggles, Estate Bottled, and Barrel select. Prices range from $14 for the Sarah’s Patio to $35 for the Locksly with the others selling for $17 to $29. With high acidity and fruit forward flavor, this wine stands well on its own but is very food friendly.

The wine made from the Norton grape goes with fatty foods, red meats, BBQ, cream sauces and fried foods. I will be writing more about Virginia wines, with information as to where they can be purchased. Believe me, they are worth a try!

As usual, comments, suggestions or questions can be directed to me via e-mail